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Nonprofit organization operating out of St. Paul's United Methodist Church in Milwaukie connects veterans to services

The Veterans and Families Resource Center of Oregon started as an idea of Casey Curry's. Today, the nonprofit organization, operating out of St. Paul's United Methodist Church in Milwaukie, connects veterans to the services and benefits they have earned.

PHOTO BY ELLEN SPITALERI - Patti Jay, left, and Rev. Becca Wieringa, pastor at St. Paul's United Methodist Church, sort through clothing donated to the Veterans and Families Resource Center of Oregon.When Curry returned from a one-year tour of duty in Afghanistan with the Oregon Army National Guard, she realized there were few resources to support returning veterans and their loved ones.

Oregon is one of the few states with no active military post, and Curry felt "we needed one place where any veteran and their families can come and find resources."

PHOTO BY ELLEN SPITALERI - Casey Curry attaches announcements to the wall near the office of the Veterans and Families Resource Center of Oregon, inside St. Paul's United Methodist Church.With two other female veterans, Patti Jay and Lisa King, she founded the VFRC of Oregon, which opened last December. The office is open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Mondays and Wednesdays, and veterans can set up appointments for other days if needed.

The center provides food boxes, hygiene items, pet food, peer support, employment information and more, including information for finding other resources for veterans that the center itself does not provide.

The VFRC of Oregon will hold an open house from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, April 15, at the church, 11631 S.E. Linwood Ave., in Milwaukie.

"People can come in, buy lunch for $6, tour the center and learn more about what we are doing here," Curry said, adding that visitors also can donate nonperishable food and personal hygiene items.

Founders have served

The founders of the center are all military veterans: Curry spent 26 years in the Oregon Army National Guard, King was in the Army for five years and did a tour in Kuwait, and Jay joined the Oregon Air National Guard and served as an aerospace medical technician from 1979 to 1986, while stationed at the Portland Air National Guard Base.

All veterans and their families are welcome to come to the center, Curry said, adding, that even if people have served only one day in the military, they are eligible.

The motto of the center says it all, King said: "Once we serve, we're family."

Resources available

The center is planning activities and upcoming workshops to provide support to veterans and their families.

"The Oregon Military Support Network is our fiscal partner, and we partnered with them last December to give 38 families food boxes, Christmas trees, decorations and toys. We want to serve 150 families next year," Curry said.

She noted that a men's veterans group will be meeting at the church this month, and the center will support whatever that group needs.

Recently, Curry and Jay provided suits to veteran job seekers as part of Project Homeless Connect.

"Farmers Insurance every year takes in suits donated, and they will be partnering with us. We will take suits to whoever needs them," Curry said.

The center will host a résumé workshop for job seekers at 6 p.m. Thursday, April 20, at the church, King said, noting that the speaker will be Becky Washington, a professional résumé writer.

Eventually, the VFRC of Oregon hopes to expand to every county seat in the state, and with that goal in mind, Curry said the center is "looking to publish a book of resources for vets that covers all of Oregon."

The women are planning to host a family-focused movie night sometime in April, and they hope to hold a family fun day four times a year. The first one is planned for 1 p.m. Saturday, June 10.

The center also is connecting with the North Clackamas School District, asking the district to identify children who have a parent deployed, because "the family serves right along with the soldiers," Jay said.

Partnership with St. Paul's

Jay is a member of the St. Paul's congregation and said the partnership with the church "extends the walls of the church out into the community. We can go into neighborhoods and say, 'we're here for you.'"

Rev. Becca Wieringa, the pastor at St. Paul's, said she and the church's congregation were delighted to partner with the VFRC of Oregon.

"One of our missions is alleviating the root causes of homelessness, and the center's [goals] coincide with ours," she said.

By partnering with organizations like the center, "we can make our resources go further," Wieringa added.

The church gives the center office and gathering spaces for free, she said, "because their mission aligns with what we want to do. We connect with them where we can. We have many veterans in the church, and we provide some volunteers.

"The biggest reason we partnered with the center is that their vision and our vision are very much in alignment. We want everyone to have a place where they are loved and accepted."

Almost everyone knows a veteran, Wieringa said, adding, "We want them to know they can come here for support."

Community help needed

Curry would like veterans and their families to visit the center's website at vfrcoregon.org to fill out a survey "telling us what they want here. We are open to what veterans want."

"So many other veterans groups have started their own charities, and we would like to bring all those other organizations under one roof. We all have different needs," King said.

She added that eventually the center is going to need "a really big building" to do everything they want to do.

"We are already partnering with the Oregon Military Support Network, which gets donations from Home Depot so they can do house repairs for vets, and with Tools for Troops, which gives free tools to vets," Curry said.

But all three women noted that support from the community is needed.

"For decades vets were unseen, unheard, invisible. We need to be more visible," King said.

Jay added, "We want [veterans] to know we haven't forgotten them."

'Fill in the gaps'

Curry is the outreach coordinator for the Returning Veterans Project, a Portland-based organization that offers free counseling and other health services to post-9/11 war zone veterans and their families.

She said there is a definite need for resources and support in the veterans community, adding that statistics for 2015 show there are 35,601 veterans in Clackamas County.

"When you add in family members, that's nearly 100,000 people. That's close to a quarter of the population of Clackamas County," Curry said.

"The more we can come together and serve the community as true partners the better," Jay said.

Curry added, "We are here to fill in the gaps."

King said monetary donations are always welcome, and people can visit the website and click on How You Can Help.

She added, "We want anybody to come here and volunteer. That's part of the way we can get the community to understand what we're doing."

Supporting veterans

What: The Veterans and Families Resource Center of Oregon

Mission: The VFRC of Oregon is a nonprofit organization that connects veterans to services and benefits.

Where: Inside St. Paul's United Methodist Church, 11631 S.E. Linwood Ave., Milwaukie. The door to the center is located at the back of the church.

Hours: 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Mondays and Wednesdays. Appointments are available outside of office hours; call 503-860-1451 to leave a message.

Donations: Nonperishable food, personal hygiene items and money may be dropped off at the church from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday through Thursday, and from 9 a.m. to noon Sunday.

Website: Visit vfrcoregon.org to fill out the veterans survey or for more information.

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